"I'm a liberated man. I know crying's not weak." - Ken, the Barbie movie
The Barbie (and Ken!) phenomenon has everyone talking about gender roles and dynamics in modern culture. Younger generations are now embracing the beauty of fluidity in fashion and beyond, while the advertising world is accelerating gender parity powered by the youth perspective. But there’s still lots to unpick when it comes to the spectrum of modern masculine, feminine and non-binary identities. This week’s 52INSIGHTS asks what it means to identify as male today; who are the key influential voices evolving the ‘masculinity’ conversation? What does it mean to show up in ‘male’ culture in a relevant way?
Image source - @bretmanrock
BUILDING BLOCKS TO MODERN MASCULINITY
“[Being] a ‘man’ is to embrace and accept the hurdles in your life in order to overcome them.” - Abdulaziz 21, The Love Network, Kuwait
We’re in a ‘crisis of masculinity’ says the New Yorker. In reality, masculinity has always been multifaceted - evolving across centuries and cultures. Ricard V Reeves, the British American scholar in inequality and social mobility, argues that ‘the rapid liberation of women, and the labor market shift towards brains and away from brawn have left men confronting the prospect of “cultural redundancy.”
Throughout much of human history, mainstream masculinity has been influenced by iconic figures in literature; like the adventurous character of Odysseus from Greek mythology or the daring charisma of James Bond in books and film. In the mid-20th century, the rise of the Marlboro Man in advertising exemplified the rugged and stoic cowboy archetype as the epitome of ‘manliness’. We’ve seen pop culture icons like Superman and Batman evolve from traditional mid-century hero figures to more nuanced masculine figures in the 90’s/00’s - balancing strength and vulnerability in their fight for justice. With the advent of the internet and social media, male celebrities like Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, Jason Momoa and Lebron James have become role models. They are promoting body confidence, mental health awareness, and emotional intelligence while actively challenging outdated notions of toxic masculinity. Today shows like "Queer Eye" and Creators such as Bretman Rock champion diverse expressions of manhood; celebrating individuality, inclusivity and strength through sensitivity.
As we continue into the 21st century, advertising, media and entertainment continues to play a crucial role in redefining masculinity. The understanding of masculinity continues to evolve; emphasising empathy, vulnerability, and respect for more fluid, diverse identities, ultimately breaking free from rigid stereotypes. In the Barbie film, we literally see the journey to self awareness through Ken’s discovery, adoption and adaptation away from the patriarchy (but his love of horses remains).
A MODERN ‘MALE’ DICHOTOMY
As a ‘man’ there’s no longer one, absolute way to show up in the world. In a conversation with THINKHOUSE Producer Dave McCabe (34) about the meaning of “masculinity” today, these lyrics from Samaritans by Idles summed up his thoughts: “Man up, sit down, Chin up, pipe down, Socks up, don't cry, Drink up, don't whine "Grow some balls" he said, "Grow some balls", The mask, Of masculinity Is a mask, A mask that's wearing me.” As masculinity evolves, McCabe feels like there is a tension-filled dichotomy to navigate, while at the same time battling against the pull of more traditional ideas of ‘male’ identity: “The trope of “masculinity” is in crisis because the ‘instinct’ to feel superior is at odds with the central concept of the modern world, that we humans are all equal. We may try to numb anger, but when we do we numb joy and pleasure in the world too.”
The language used in culture to describe ‘all types of men’ can be overly binary, and comes with in-built judgement. Follow any Snapchat or WhatsApp conversation and you’ll see commentary around men and boys described in simplistic terms; Softboys; Brahs; Fuckboys; Gurus; Simps; Alphas; Soyboys; NPCs.
“Overall it's just beautiful to be a man, there is little luck, the surroundings are competitive as shit, every man wants what you want, the dollar, the girl, the status, everything. which is hard, but amazing at the same time. Being a man is highly underappreciated in society nowadays I feel. If I open the car door for one of my girl-friends I'm a simp and if I don't I'm a toxic man. It's like being at war all day, but I love it. Being a man is loving the battle.” - Fin, 20, The Love Network, Netherlands
WHO’S SHAPING THE EVOLUTION OF MASCULINITY TODAY?
In politics, it’s important to follow opposing, diverse positions so that you’re truly informed to come to your own conclusions and motivations. This is also true of culture. From The Love Network insight, here, in no particular order, is our 2023 list of Men Shaping Culture (across all ages, for better or worse);
- Hamza Ahmed - YouTuber turned guru. Self Titled “Cult Leader” on a mission to lead young men to their own “Self-improvement”.
- Tom Holland - Marvel superhero actor. Partner of Zendaya, widely seen as having an aspirational relationship dynamic. Shares vulnerability with regard to mental health and journey to sobriety.
- Kenny Ethan Jones - Former model, writer, trans advocate and consultant. First man to front a period campaign.
- Harry Styles - Musician and actor. Transitioned from tween pop to serious global rockstar. Fluid dresser, sometimes accused of queerbaiting.
- The Sidemen - with a combination of hard-man challenges and philanthropic moments these Creators capture the imagination of millions with their playful, banterful, entrepreneurial challenges and endeavours. Entertainment 5.0.
- Kevin Hart - one of the most successful media personalities in the world. Charismatic comedian, actor, streaming star and social commentator who has overcome a chequered past & personal challenges to become a modern, more realistic father figure and Christian.
- Elliot Page - Trans Actor. Possibly the most high profile person to come out as a trans man.
- Ronaldo - Portuguese footballer. The most-followed individual, man, sportsperson, and European on Instagram, with over 599 million followers. Named in top 20 most charitable celebrities, donating quietly and generously to children's medical care.
- Pedro Pascal - Internet’s latest obsession. Latecomer to mega stardom who starred in The Last of Us. Very likeable persona and leans into fandom.
- Joe Rogan - MMA commentator and podcaster. Presenter of the most downloaded podcast of all time. Often touts divisive right wing opinions.
- David Attenborough - British broadcaster, biologist, natural historian. Godfather and last word in nature broadcasting. International treasure.
MEN RESHAPING THE MARKETING & AD INDUSTRY:
- Nils Leonard, Founder of Uncommon - celebrated for disrupting the routine marketing outlook in preference for a bold, reactive and playful tone of voice.
- Mo Gawdat is the former Chief Business Officer of Google, thought leader on happiness and AI.
- Mo Said, Founder of Mojo Supermarket, Small Agency of the Year (NYC) - Pakistani creative director that runs the startup creative agency Mojo Supermarket.
- Jason Foo, CEO at BBD Perfect Storm, Non Executive Director at The Marketing Society,| Advisory Board Member at The Alliance of Independent Agencies.
- Rob McFaul & Jonathan Wise - Co Founders of Purpose Disruptors and instigators of Change The Brief and Advertised Emissions
- Duncan Meisel, Executive Director of Clean Creatives. Bringing together leading agencies, creatives, and clients to end their support for the fossil fuel industry's misinformation campaigns.
- Jon Alexander former Ad planner, Co Founder of the New Citizenship Project and Author, CITIZENS: Why the Key to Fixing Everything is All of Us.
- Rob Mayhew - the hilarious TikTok creator and Creative Director nailing ‘agency life’ in most hilarious and ‘in touch’ way possible. A LinkedIn laugh a day.
- Thomas Kolster - ‘Mr Goodvertising’...a frontrunner and one of the most recognised thinkers globally where marketing, business and sustainability meet. He continuously challenges the status-quo with his vocal, and often provocative, views on values, purpose, and leadership.
- Mark Ritson - the outspoken, charismatic modern thinker challenging fundamental norms with great humour and a sense of realism
Follow them to witness the changing face of the industry under the leadership of some of the most exciting and progressive in the game.
Modern ‘Male’ Kenergy is Unique: While there is power in multiple forms of masculinity and increasingly fluid definitions of identity, there is also a unique fragility in being a man in today’s world. Harvard Business Review explores men’s mental health at work and urges managers to ‘create the space people (men) need to start having real, honest conversations.’ There are resources available to help drive important conversations with friends too - like Movember’s ‘Spot The Signs.’
Consider Your Connection & Influence on ‘Male’ Culture: Culturally astute brands recognise, and even inform, what ‘masculinity’ means. It’s important to consider culturally, where your audience is at today and where your brand can bring them. The Creators we choose to collaborate with say everything about our brand. For maximum relevance, build a Love Networkthat reflects the diversity of the multiple archetypes.
NEWS FROM THINKHOUSE
THE CAN-VENTION CENTRE: This week, we worked in partnership with Unilever and LYNX to reinforce the brand’s position in modern male culture. Lynx Africa, the iconic men's fragrance, has been officially recognised as the G.O.A.T. in Ireland with 85% of Irishmen having donned the quintessential scent at some point. To mark this historic occasion, the ‘Scent-enery’, we turned the National Convention Centre in Dublin into a colossal can of Lynx Africa.
HOT OFF THE PRESS: The 28th edition of YOUTH magazine looks at the ever-shifting sands of global beauty standards through the lens of our ability to modify ourselves like never before. We've entered the era of The Great Aesthetic Intervention, where our given appearance is a first offering and a vast array of modifications, enhancements, age-defiers, and "tweakments" grant us the opportunity to make changes if we so choose. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Read on here.